Getting to know Aaron Studwell

Aaron Studwell is a name NASCAR fans may or may not know. For those who are unfamiliar with him, he runs RACEWeather.net and collaborates with Brian Neudorff forecasting the weather for NASCAR races on their Patreon page.

Studwell and Neudorff may be two of the most underappreciated people in the NASCAR community that don’t work in the sport but are very helpful to race teams and fans when weather threatens an upcoming race. Both are constantly updating the weather conditions that are near the tracks.

For Studwell, however, it didn’t start out quite that way. Growing up he was focused on the weather.

“I originally became interested in the weather in the third grade,” he said. “I grew up sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, so that was often impacted by the weather. I ended up getting my undergraduate degree from Michigan in Aerospace Engineering because I didn’t know about the careers in meteorology beyond TV and the Weather Service. I ended up in meteorology when I decided to get my Masters and wanted to move on from engineering.”

Studwell explains the type of meteorology he does that is different from the meteorology people know about.

“Marine meteorology is more focused on winds & waves, along with storms,” he explained to Speedway Media. “This is for both crew safety and for operational limits. So while the National Weather Service will do offshore forecasting for the U.S., it is for a broad region, where we will provide site-specific forecasts. Also, there are regions around the world, where that kind of forecast may not be available.”

He has been a meteorologist since 1995, but Studwell’s first experience with NASCAR was in 2002.

“The first time I really got in to NASCAR was in 2002 with the Daytona 500 when Ward Burton won,” he said. “I was a Dodge guy and always been a Dodge guy. Ward’s out there racing the Caterpillar Dodge. I have stuff of his sitting on top of my bookshelf, signed hat and memorabilia from him.”

“I just remember sitting there watching the (Daytona) 500 and it was a beautiful Sunday, watching it as is and I just got drawn in. And then of all things, I go out and buy NASCAR Thunder 2002 (Video Game) and that was okay, but NASCAR Thunder 2003 got me hooked on NASCAR to watch it more, playing it more, and learning from the sport that way.”

After that, Studwell began to forecast the weather for NASCAR races to let the fans know what they might expect on a race weekend. He details what led him to where he is today.

“I was in the chat rooms or message boards for NASCAR 2003,” Studwell said. “Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was heading towards Dover for Dover race weekend in September. So people were asking me, ‘hey what’s your forecast.’ So I went out to go get the domain and someone already had raceweather.com. I got raceweather.net which is why I kind of kept it. They were willing to sell me raceweather.com for $3,000 and I was like, no that’s fine, thanks. Not that big of an effort to spend money on.”

“So I took it from answering questions on the web board to okay, here’s the website,” he continued. “And then I just kind of kept this website going through the end of the year.

2004 was a special year for Studwell as he was able to get his website featured on Jayski.com.

“In 2004, I reached out to Jayski and he had a bunch of weather links on his webpage,” he explained. “I was like hey, could you put my weather link on there? And he did, so that was good. That’s how it kind of grew through Jayski and then updating the webpage, kind of driving web traffic that way.”

“There wasn’t Facebook or Twitter then like it is a bigger platform now. Hurricane Isabel is the reason why I started raceweather.net and it all kind of tied together in that time frame.”

Studwell also recalls the first race he attended and an exicting opportunity that came after.

“In the 2003-2005 time frame, the first race I attended was the Las Vegas race in the spring, I think 2004,” he said. “I actually had the opportunity that I knew a guy, Adam Risher, who was then the Crew Chief for Kertus Davis on the No. 0 car (Busch Series) for Johnny Davis Motorsports, now named JD Motorsports. I believe Adam (Risher) is at (Richard) Childress now.”

“This was before it was harder to have volunteers, but it was a small team and so I went to volunteer for them, just to have a chance to be on pit road, move stuff around, help a team to put things together,” he continued. “I learned about being there and see if it was what I wanted to do because I had interviews with Ford engineering for the Truck teams that were going to look at using the Toyota model, where you had this team of engineers look across all the Truck teams.”

From there, Studwell met people who worked in the racing world and gave him interviews.

“I met with “Cowyboy” Kevin Starland for an interview and I met Dave Charpentier when he was at PPI (Motorsports), and he (Charpentier) is now the Chief Engineer at JTG Daughtery Racing,” he explained to Speedway Media.

“I also met Greg Erwin for an interview at Roush (Fenway Racing) at the time. I met a bunch of great people in the industry. I had somebody at Roush tell me, hey look your interview was great but it didn’t go much further than that. So the timing just never really worked out because having that Aerospace Engineering Degree, I can work as an Aerodynamist or a Race Engineer, because I had worked at General Motors. But having your own meteorologist on the (Pit) Box and accessable, was a nice perk as well.”

Studwell also shared his thoughts about how the rain affects NASCAR races when the crew are looking at a different radar model than he is.

“I think a great example is from Cole Custer on Friday (night),” he added. “The rain is 10 miles out, but you also have something that I posted several times that dry air is over the region and that rain will just continue to weaken/dissipate before it gets to the track. So there’s a lot more than radar reading or radar observing, saying hey nothing is going to change but if you look at the patterns from that, and then knew where to look elsewhere, knew what to think about. Why is the rain dissipating? Is it dissiapating? Will it continue to dissipate and so it’s a lot more than just throwing a radar up, and saying it’s 10 miles moving at 30 mph that it’s going to be here in 20 minutes.”

He also offered his thoughts whether or not a team could afford a meteorologist.

“I think it’s feasible,” he said. “Is it cost effective? I don’t know. That’s for them to decide. I think it’s an added value you have one those days when you have those concerns. I think the bigger issue is from a safety consideration.”

“I’ve had the opprotunity to be at tracks and work the Brickyard 400 in 2017,” Studwell continued. “That’s when we had rain on both days and I had media access. It’s funny because I was talking to Bob Pockrass a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t have this realization until later why they put me where they put me in the media center. I was exactly in the middle from front and back, and in the middle from left to right. I was dead center in the media center because now everyone would have perfect access to me.”

“So that was my first race to work from as a media weather standpoint. It was funny, I walked in Saturday and Bob Pockrass already had the radar up, and was like, oh hey Aaron there’s rain here. I was like, got it Bob thanks. But to have a chance to work with people like Claire B Lang, Lee Spencer, and Chris Knight.”

“It was a great opportunity. I met Steve O’ Donnell, Doug Rice, and for them to put a face to a name and say okay, I see what he does, what he is doing, someone in there that they can trust as a resource, I think it’s great. It would also be great if NASCAR could use it as a resource of looking at things from fan safety, planning, earlier starts to races. I know they have their own resource, but to have their own dedicated resource would be great too in all the series.”

Studwell also added that it is frustrating when there is information going out that may confuse people when fans watch the races.

“Oh, it’s frustrating when there is conflicting information going out,” he emphasized. “It’s frustrating because they (NASCAR) have a agenda where everything is tolerant driven and I get it. They have a agenda they’re following and want to meet. They want to keep racing and don’t want to go to a red flag for rain. So they’re going to say, certain things.”

“I’m going to go back to the Vegas race this year,” he added. “They (NASCAR) saw those dark clouds on the background and fourtantely those showers are staying north of I-15. But you see in the background there is rain. I was like okay, I better hit this one.”

About six years ago, was the first time Studwell came across Neudorff online and it wasn’t all rainbows when they first interacted with each other.

“I’m going to use a DW (Darrell Waltrip) term here, copertition,” Aaron told Speedway Media. “We would be out there almost competiting against one another to who could have the forecast up first, an advisory out first and we were kind of just stepping on one another’s toes. Then we got to a point and said, you know what? This isn’t how we should be doing it. We have never met in person, but we talk once or twice a week depending on the weather, and what’s going on in our world.”

“We started coordinating about five or six years ago,” he continued. “We started a Patreon page last year. We take turns doing the weekly updates, he (Neudorff) updates it during the week, I’ll update it during the week sometimes, a little less frequently, as I am focused on raceweather.net.”

“There was a race last year where we were trying to figure out who is going to put an update out. If we don’t, then we are both putting out updates and end up being contradictory. He has a larger social media presence than I do. When I first got into this (forecasting NASCAR races) and used NASCAR weatherman (on social media), I was concerned with legal reasons using NASCAR in my username, website, that there would be implications like, oh he’s just trying to make money off the company’s name and you put yourself in a weird position. But yeah, we’ll both sit down and coordinate with each other for an upcoming race weekend.”

When Studwell is not doing the NASCAR weather forecast with Neudorff or for his own site, he is busy working on his Ph.D at Houston University.

“My proposed dissertation title is, “Spatiotemporal Variations of Saturn’s Zonal Winds based on Cassini Long-term (2004-2017) Multi-Instrument Observations,” Studwell said. “So, it’s looking at the long-term wind patterns within Saturn during the totality of Cassini’s mission. Right now, my dissertation research will not apply to my work. It’s more for my own achievements/goals. I did have to take more classes too, so those will make me a better meteorologist and reinforced a lot of knowledge from my Masters work. I also don’t know what the future may bring, so stay along for the ride.”

Like forecasting weather for NASCAR races, there are hard parts to his job and a lot of the time, it’s trying to have a regular life.

“The hardest part of my job is trying to maintain a work/life balance because we have odd schedules and during some weather events, extra hours are expected,” he told Speedway Media. “But that’s also factoring in my PhD research and writing.”

On top of having to try to have balance in his life, there are times when he does get a little negativity from time-to-time on social media such as being called out for getting a forecast wrong, but it’s been mostly positive.

“Oh yes,” Studwell said. “There has been (negativity) and I really don’t want to go into those details. For the most part, I have talked with the people who posted it and we have come to better understandings. People should remember that I am a NASCAR fan, as well, that I want to see racing that is uninterrupted by weather. But when that can’t happen, I am going to produce the best forecast I can, as a free service to fans, media, teams, etc, for safety and for planning reasons.”

“Now, I’d rather focus on the positives that I have received – both as tweets and through DMs. There have been kudos from Cup drivers, media, and tracks for both the quality of work and for our level of communication. And while I don’t do this for the recognition, they are nice to get for the validation of my work.”

When Studwell first started out, he did not think he would be as big as he is today within the media.

“To answer the question, no, it wasn’t at all what I was thinking,” he told Speedway Media. “When my son and I were at the Texas NASCAR weekend a few weeks ago, we went to the Tweetup there. I knew the media people and people knew who I was. So, as my son phrased it, I’m “Twitter famous.”

There has been in times in Studwell’s career where he has thought about a different career path other than meteorology.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’ve been all over the place, especially having the Aerospace undergrad. I graduated kind of soon after the Challenger accident, so it took me a few months to find a professional job after graduating from Michigan. So I’ve substitute taught during the day and as a doorman at a night club. My first professional job was Mission Control at NASA – Goddard Space Flight Center, then I worked on the Star Wars program. I moved back to Michigan and got a job designing and testing antilock brakes at the GM Proving Grounds.”

He also explains why Clint Bowyer would be someone who he wants to be friends with and his thoughts on who the 2019 Cup Series Champion will be at the end of the season.

“Clint Bowyer!,” Studwell excitedly answered. “First and final answer – hands down. He just seems (and this from the outside looking in) to be a quality, down to earth guy but also is a helluva driver. Plus he just seems like he’d be fun to hang out with but would likely drink me under the table.”

As for predicting the 2019 Cup Series champion, he said, “Denny Hamlin will be champion at the end of the 2019 season.”

Finally, Studwell gave advice for future meteorology students who may want to pursue this career.

“First and foremost, learn how to program,” he stressed. “While we will still need human forecasters, there is a need for people who can program and also understand/appreciate the weather, so it’s a good combo.”

You can follow Studwell on Twitter, visit his website RACEWeather.net and catch him on the Lapped Traffic Podcast every Tuesday night.  

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